It’s 1983. Six masked men break into the Brink’s Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport, planning to steal a million pounds cash from a locked safe. They can’t crack it, though, getting nowhere threatening the guard, and for a moment – time running out, police surely on their way, no one sure what to do – it looks like they’re going to have to run without a penny. But then they notice a crate on the other side of the room, a crate that’s clearly too big to fit inside the safe, a crate that was only being held there for a short time – a crate stacked with gold bullion worth over £26 million. They steal the gold instead.
From there, The Gold traces two stories: the thieves, trying to redistribute and pass off the bullion without detection, and the police, trying to catch them before the gold is laundered so thoroughly it can never be found again. With the heist itself wrapped up before the opening titles, The Gold settles into more of a process story, following each complication step by step – to launder the bullion, fence Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) has to file off serial numbers, mix impurities into each bar, and create a paper trail to establish a new provenance for the gold before selling it on, while the police (lead by Hugh Bonneville’s DCI Boyce) have to navigate lax banking laws that allow someone to withdraw millions without raising an eyebrow.
That both the thieves and the police are locked into a race against the other lends the drama a certain urgency: at the end of the second episode, a financial analyst (Daniel Ings) breaks down how quickly the thieves will be able to disguise the stolen bullion, explaining it’d take only a month to sell the gold back to its original owners without anyone ever noticing. It unfolds across a grand scale, too, with jaunts to Sierra Leone and Switzerland contextualising the vast influence of the theft (it’s thought that every piece of jewellery bought in the UK after 1983 contains trace amounts of the Brink’s-Mat gold, resold into the legitimate market) – in turn helping to justify this as a six-episode television show rather than a two-hour movie.
The Gold makes for a good example of true crime done well – a series that dramatises a genuinely outlandish crime with far-reaching consequences, rather than just Martin Clunes trying to prove he’s a serious actor by sleepwalking through police procedural clichés (nevermind the real dead woman). It also affords writer Neil Forsyth the opportunity to examine ideas about class tension and social mobility, pitting new money thieves against upper class police officers – for all that the series does, admittedly, spend a lot of time stating the subtext in dialogue as straightforwardly as possible, it’s nice for a true crime drama to at least try for some subtext full stop.
The Gold has quite an unfussy, direct sensibility, never really opting for the heavy stylisation that tends to characterise British crime dramas with a period setting. Instead, it feels very matter of fact and to the point, taking on quite a mannered and precise quality that complements the script well – it’s funny, yes, but in a wry and sardonic kind of way that cuts sharper as a result of director Aneil Karia’s (who recently won an Oscar with Riz Ahmed for their short film The Long Goodbye) more restrained approach. It suits the actors well, too, with police double act Charlotte Spence and Emun Elliot slotting into that vibe particularly well.
Elsewhere, leads Lowden, Bonneville, and Dominic Cooper all impress. Lowden and Bonneville settle nicely into their cat and mouse pursuit (and casting the erstwhile Earl of Grantham as lead police officer resonates well with The Gold’s ideas about class tension), but it’s Cooper that gets some of the most interesting material as dodgy solicitor Edwyn Cooper. One of few characters invented wholesale for the drama, Cooper has reinvented himself entirely in his pursuit of an upper-class lifestyle – it’s a reinvention quickly exposed as a façade, though, when laundering the money brings him into contact with the world of organised crime.
Ultimately, The Gold is a sharply drawn piece of drama; it thrives as a process story, always most impressive when it hones in on the granular details of money laundering. It perhaps doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s solid, with a real heft to it – not unlike, you’d imagine, a stack of stolen gold bars.
The Gold begins on BBC One on Sunday 12 February at 9pm, with every episode available at once on iPlayer; it’ll be available internationally on Paramount+ later in the year. I watched four of an eventual six episodes before writing this review.
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